Light of Hope sheds light on juvenile issues

Tuesday, April 23, the third annual ‘Light of Hope’ panelist forum and candle light vigil was held in Martin at the Martin Grade School activity center. 

The event usually held in Pine Ridge in April to bring awareness to child abuse awareness month and sexual assault awareness month was held at Martin this year. 

The event was sponsored by several organizations (OST Tribal and State) to bring community members together to have discussion about juvenile issues in Bennett County and to seek suggestions for solutions and resources. 

Judges, prosecutors and law enforcement from both state and the Oglala Sioux Tribe were panelist and spoke to about 30 people in attendance on issues of concern involving juvenile issues in the city of Martin. 

The panelists answered questions from those in attendance about the state and tribal court protocols, statistics, parent involvement and cultural competency. 

Several spoke of suggestions to resolve race issues and work together to help the children. The evening ended in prayer with a candlelight vigil to bring hope to the young people and children. Also, to honor and bring awareness to those who are victims of Child Abuse and Sexual Assault awareness month.

Ken Orrock, Bennett County States Attorney, said there are times the same juveniles are in tribal juvenile court with the tribe and with the Bennett County state court and they find themselves duplicating efforts. Orrock cited 92 juvenile petitions in the county court system during one year. 

When asked about the specifics of the juveniles regarding race or crime, they currently don’t have those numbers as grants have been applied for so they can keep track of specifics for ethnicity, categories of crime, gender, how many are repeat offenders and other categories and can be more specific on those statistics in the future. 

Orrock said, “the forum was to bring the community together to find solutions and resources of the juveniles issues. He said both of the justices sitting here deal with tribal and state side, what enforcement representatives deal with on a daily basis, what services are working in this community and what services are lacking in this community, what can best serve the children in the community.” 

He said the true goal with this forum is to help the child. 

Martin’s Chief of Police Julio Medeiros spoke in great detail of issues the city faces in regards to the juvenile issues, child neglect, abuse and crime. He said 85 percent of the calls to Winner dispatch are Native American against Native American and they are the response to them. He said their department door is open. 

Craig Dillon, OST LaCreek District council representative spoke of his experience as a former Bennett County law enforcement officer and how community policing was then. He said the community has been on the same plane for a long time, there hasn’t been a big change in population and, “we didn’t have the juvenile problems we have today.” He said, “we lost something, we lost community involvement by everyone who lives in this community. That is how the community was at one time, people talked to each other about their children. We have the ability to help make change by being neighborly and work together.”

OST Juvenile Judge Saunie Wilson explained how the jurisdiction issues work in Bennett County regarding juveniles and placement of children. The Indian Child Welfare Act or ONTRAC can be used when that child is in state court and when the incidents happen on tribal land and in tribal court. The tribal child protection Lakota Oyate Wakanyeja Owicakiyapi (LOWO) steps in when jurisdiction is Tribal. In 2012, there were 858 juvenile findings in the OST court. The rates are high and what they offer through tribal court and they too face not having enough resources.

Sixth Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Trandahl, said it is an ongoing problem. Many of the children we see are the same children over and over again. They set up sobriety plans, treatment plans, the resources are the biggest obstacle we have. We try to get them into treatment here, we just don’t have a lot of resources here for helping these juveniles. 

She said they are hoping to get positive reinforcement from the community especially with summer coming up, the goal is not to have kids in the court room. It’s a problem everywhere really. They currently have a 24/7 program, set curfew issues, devise treatment plan for accountability for sobriety. Often times some parents just want us to back them to help their child. She said they were open to suggestions and there is need to come together to help these children. 

Questions were asked to panelist on the protocols of the court systems, suggestions includes a horse equine program to work with children, questions the cultural competency of court appointed attorneys, community policing, 

Alice Young said, “So far we are focusing on the problems, we need to focus on how to solve those problems,” suggesting the use of equine therapy with children.

Dallas Chief Eagle, who lives west of Martin spoke of a program he developed that works with Native men in the area. The programs helps them to develop emotionally, to grow from the inside out and improve their emotional skills. He said there is a meeting each Sunday at his place and they work with men on emotional skills as many of them are dealing with multi-generational trauma, and emotional wounds.

The evening ended with the “Light of Hope” which was a prayer and a candlelight vigil for victims of Child Abuse and Sexual Assault.

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